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Bankers and Empire

SCRUBBED FROM THE PAGES of glossy coffeetable books, the history of U.S. imperialism can be found in the archives of Wall Street’s oldest, largest, and most powerful institutions. A deep dive into the vaults and ledgers of banking houses such as Citigroup, Inc., and J. P. Morgan Chase and Co. reveals a story of capitalism and empire whose narrative is not of morally pure and inspiring economic growth, technological innovation, market expansion, and shareholder accumulation, but rather of blood and labor, stolen sovereignty and pilfered resources, military occupation and monetary control. Sugar comingles with blood, chain gangs cross spur lines, and the magical abstractions of finance are found vulgarized in the base manifestations of racial capitalism.

This history of bankers and empire is also a Caribbean history. The Caribbean archipelago was ground zero for U.S. imperial banking.

Wall Street’s first experiments in internationalism occurred in Cuba, Haiti, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua, often with disastrous results—for those countries and colonies, and often for the imperial banks themselves. Yet where there was expansion, there was also pushback. The internationalization of Wall Street was met with local resistance, refusal and revolt. And just as the history of imperialism has been excised from popular narratives, so too has this history of Caribbean anti-imperialism and autonomy.

THE HISTORY of imperial banking and racial capitalism begins at the end of the nineteenth century, at the historical horizon where the project of U.S. settler colonialism that spurred the financing of the West became the enterprise of U.S. territorial colonialism in the Caribbean and Asia.

Buoyed by unprecedented wealth and boosted by the expansionist jingoism following the victory over Spain in the Caribbean and the Pacific, New York City’s bankers and merchants believed that the organization of an imperial banking system—one that could compete with Europe’s long-established institutions—was critical to the global rise of the city and to the consolidation of Wall Street’s position in international finance, trade, and commerce. With these ambitions, bankers and businesspeople set their sights on asserting control over the trade and finance of the Americas. They sought to control local central banks, establish U.S. branch banks, take over commodity financing, reorganize monetary systems on a dollar basis, and refinance European-funded sovereign debt.

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Paperback, 130 pages Racist Logic tackles how racist thinking can be found in surprising—and often overlooked—places. In the forum's lead essay, historian Donna Murch traces the origins of the opioid epidemic to Big Pharma's aggressive marketing to white suburbanites. The result, Murch shows, has been to construct a legal world of white drug addiction alongside an illicit drug war that has disproportionately targeted people of color. Other essays examine how the global surrogacy industry incentivizes the reproduction of whiteness while relying on the exploited labor of women of color, how black masculinity is commodified in racial capitalism, and how Wall Street exploited Caribbean populations to bankroll U.S. imperialism. Racist logic, this issue shows, continues to pervade our society, including its nominally colorblind business practices. Contributors not only explore the institutional structures that profit from black suffering, but also point the way to racial justice. Forum Lead essay by Donna Murch. Responses by Max Mishler, Britt Rusert, Julie Netherland, Helena Hansen, David Herzberg, Michael Collins, Julilly Kohler-Hausmann, Jonathan Kahn, L.A. Kauffman, and Donna Murch. Essays Peter Hudson, Jordanna Matlon, Alys Weinbaum, and Richard Ford.